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Book Review: Family wanted

Family Wanted: A True stories of adoption, edited by Sara Holloway, Granta Books, (London, 2005). Reviewed by Safa Ouhib

Family Wanted is a collection of personal stories about adoption written by people who have experienced adoption and who are themselves writers, such as Bernard Cornwell and Jeanette Winterson. The book is divided into three sections. The first is composed of the stories of people who have themselves been adopted, the second, those who have given children up for adoption and the third, people who have adopted children. I began reading the book because I was curious about the topic of adoption. I had particular questions in mind, such as how do people deal with telling children that they are adopted and what is a child’s reaction to this, and what are the issues for a family who have adopted and non-adopted children. I was also curious about adopted people’s experiences of meeting their birth parents.


Family Wanted answered my questions in the best possible way. The book sent me on a roller coaster of emotions, making me laugh aloud one minute and cry the next. The collection succeeds in examining adoption in all its complexity through moving personal stories. The topic is a lot more complex than I had previously imagined. For example, I never thought a three year old would say to her adoptive mother, ‘I wish I was borned from you.’ The families who have adopted children began explaining this to the child early, usually from about age two, with real discussions taking place about age four. One adoptive mother noted that her child seemed calmer after discussing the fact that she was adopted and asking question after question. The mother gradually revealed more information as their little talks progressed, but held back from revealing that her daughter had been abandoned on a Chinese roadside, feeling it would be too painful. From the collection of stories in Family Wanted, the dynamics between adopted and non-adopted siblings was not as big an issue as I had imagined. As an only natural child, one boy remarked that his newly adopted sister was the best present ever! A couple who had two adopted children and then went on to have their own child noted that their adopted son exclaimed, ‘How are we going to adopt him into our family!’ A mother of three, two natural children and one adopted wrote that ‘…a child whether flesh of my flesh or born through a process of documentation- is unique.’


Meeting natural parents is a topic that is covered in the first section of the book. It is often a positive experience especially if the adoption has not been successful. Bernard Cornwell for example never felt he belonged in his adoptive family. When approaching his sixties he finally met his birth parents. The similarities he shared with them, such as the way his father and his family laughed and both his parent’s easygoing nature, convinced him that ‘nurture is, at best, a minor influence.’ For one adoptee meeting her birth mother was not such a positive experience, she had been happy with her adoptive family and her birth mother became obsessive and an intrusion in her life. Most of the young children are very curious about their birth parents and some adoptive parents wish they had more information to tell their children. This is especially the case in foreign adoptions.


Some individual stories in Family Wanted I did not like, especially in section two as there are times when events leading up to an unexpected pregnancy are recounted. Yet, as many of the stories are beautifully written, heartfelt and emotive reading, the book was an enjoyable way of satisfying my curiosity about adoption.



Islamic guidelines on adoption
Please remember that the deen of Islam has specific rules regarding lineage, fostering and adoption. Please consult with a trusted Islamic scholar to find out more about the Islamic guidelines on adoption before committing to the adoption or fostering process.